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More Loaded Guns Detected at Checkpoints as TSA Continues to Detect High Rate of Firearms

TSA officers continue to detect firearms at the nation’s airports following its announcement regarding an increase in firearm detection rates during pandemic-restricted travel.

Last week, officers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport discovered two loaded firearms during the routine screening of carry-on luggage. On May 27, TSA officers discovered a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson Airweight revolver in the carry-on luggage of male traveler ticketed for travel to Boise Airport. Around 2:15 p.m., a TSA officer spotted the image of a handgun on the x-ray screen. TSA immediately notified the Port of Seattle Police, which responded to the security checkpoint. The passenger was cited on a state charge and allowed to continue on to his flight.

The other firearm was discovered on May 26 around 10:45 a.m. in the bag of a non-traveling male who was escorting his minor grandchild to the gate. That firearm was a 9mm Kimber Ultra Carry STS loaded with seven rounds of ammunition. The individual was also cited on a state charge.

TSA will review the circumstances of the incident and levy a civil penalty against each passenger.

Meanwhile, a TSA officer at Boise Airport discovered a loaded firearm in the carry-on luggage of female traveler ticketed for travel to Salt Lake City International Airport on May 28. Around 11:40 a.m. during the routine screening of carry-on luggage, the officer spotted the image of a handgun on the x-ray screen and immediately notified airport law enforcement, which responded to the security checkpoint.

The gun – a North American Arms .22 caliber revolver – was loaded with five rounds of ammunition. The passenger was cited on the state charge of Possession of a Firearm at a Checkpoint. This is the seventh firearm discovered by TSA in carry-on luggage at Boise Airport in 2020.

Across the country, a man was cited by the police after he was caught with a .40 caliber handgun loaded with four bullets at Washington Dulles International Airport on May 24, after a TSA officer spotted the gun in the man’s carry-on bag. He also had  two additional loose bullets with the gun.

The TSA officer who was staffing the security checkpoint spotted the handgun when it appeared on the checkpoint X-ray monitor. TSA officials immediately contacted the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police, who confiscated the handgun and detained the man, a resident of Kentucky, for questioning before citing him on a weapons charge.

On May 29, TSA officers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport detected a .22 caliber handgun and two magazine clips in a man’s carry-on bag. The gun was spotted by the TSA officer in the checkpoint X-ray machine. Again the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police were notified and arrived at the checkpoint, confiscated the gun and detained the man, a resident of Texas, for questioning before citing him on a weapons charge.

And on May 31, a Hanover County, Virginia, man was cited by police at Richmond International Airport after a TSA officer spotted a .22 caliber handgun loaded with 13 bullets, including one in the chamber, in the traveler’s carry-on bag. The man also had an additional magazine loaded with 12 more bullets.

Travelers who bring firearms to the checkpoint are subject to criminal charges from law enforcement and civil penalties from TSA. Even if a traveler has a concealed weapon permit, firearms are not permitted to be carried onto an airplane in carry-on bags.

The recommended civil penalty for a firearm starts at $2,000 and can go up to the statutory maximum of more than $10,000 per violation. Factors TSA considers when determining the civil penalty amount include whether the firearm was loaded and whether there was accessible ammunition. 

In addition to civil penalties, individuals who violate rules regarding traveling with firearms will have Trusted Traveler status and TSA Pre✓® expedited screening benefits revoked for a period of time. The duration of the disqualification will depend upon the seriousness of the offense and if there is a repeated history of violations.

TSA reminds travelers that firearms can be transported on a commercial aircraft only if they are unloaded, packed in a locked, hard-sided case and placed in checked baggage. Ammunition and firearm parts, including firearm frames, receivers, clips and magazines are also prohibited in carry-on baggage and must be checked. Any type of replica firearm is prohibited in carry-on baggage and must be transported in checked luggage.

At the airport during the check-in process, a passenger needs to go to the airline ticket counter to declare the firearm, ammunition and any firearm parts. Prior to traveling, passengers are encouraged to check gun laws and regulations at their destination to ensure they are in compliance with local and state laws. TSA also recommends travelers check with their airline prior to their flight to ensure they comply with any airline-specific requirements.

Our May 27 report attempts to shed light on the higher rate of firearm detections across the country as travel is restricted. TSA has currently not provided an explanation.

This story was updated on June 1 to include the detection at Richmond International Airport.

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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